Good Friday: From the Cross to the Tomb

On top of Calvary, there is a very different crowd than the one on the first Good Friday. When Jesus was dying on the cross at Golgotha, the good thief affirmed that Jesus was returning to his kingdom. The Roman soldiers thought that they had taken his life, when really Jesus was giving it up for the world’s salvation. It is this salvation that the large crowd that filled a very small space came to reflect upon and and to give thanks for, all the while meditating on what sufferings he had to undergo in order bring us life.

Presided over by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Passion celebration officially kicked off the solemnity of the day at the Holy Sepulcher. Behind closed doors, everyone kept silent. The liturgy was one of great intensity. Among the highlights after the reading of the Passion, was the veneration of the True Cross. Later, when the Patriarch and priests left Calvary to go retrieve the Blessed Sacrament in the tomb where it had been placed since the night before, many pilgrims flocked to the holy relic, kneeling; some were moved and all remained silent.

After communion and blessing, the Patriarch left with the True Cross and took it to the Chapel of the Apparition to Mary.

When doors of the basilica were opened, many tourists took out their cameras so as to capture the beginning of the procession.

The Way of the Cross through the streets of the city

As soon as the Franciscans had accompanied the Patriarch back to the Patriarchate, they prepared for the Way of the Cross.

Early this morning, many groups of pilgrims of different nationalities celebrated this Good Friday by praying at each station of the cross. At 10 a.m., in the courtyard of what is presently the Muslim El-Omariye school, hundreds of people gathered to follow the Franciscan procession. Before the parish began its Stations of the Cross, the Franciscans waited in the courtyard, traditionally considered the location of the courtroom where Pontius Pilate interrogated Jesus Christ and then pronounced his death sentence.

The Custos of the Holy Land arrived, and the meditation began in Italian and English at the first station. The Via Crucis began in Jesus’ footsteps. Once the Franciscans departed, the crowd rushed after them to take part in each prayer. Interspersed with songs and prayers in different languages, the slow and pious walk made its way through the narrow passages of the Via Dolorosa in the heart of Jerusalem.

Behind them, the first procession composed of young scouts and their leaders, waved flags and sang loudly. Other scouts protected the cross bearers of Saint Savior’s parish, followed by parishioners, who prayed in Arabic fervently and passionately. These faithful were surrounded by either pilgrims or by military personnel who helped to keep them safe.

The Way of the Cross ended inside the Holy Sepulcher, where the crowd slowly dispersed.

At the parish

Starting at 4:00 p.m. at Saint Savior’s church, the parish Mass took place. The church was packed, and hundreds of Arabic-speaking faithful had made the journey especially for the celebration. The ceremony was presided over by the pastor of Jerusalem, Feras Hejazin.

The passion was sung with the help of the parish choir. Then, the faithful were invited to kneel before the cross. It took an hour for the hundreds of parishioners to take turns kissing the crucifix.

The corpus was then unnailed and taken down from the cross, following the order of events of the Passion. On a stretcher, a representation of Christ was laid and anointed with holy oil.

Following the funeral procession, a popular procession then began with the playing of bagpipes and the singing of the choir. The faithful went to the New Gate, and then returned to Saint Savior’s, processing through the streets of Jerusalem. The members of the congregation were then able to go to where corpus was to receive the holy oil.

Christ’s funeral at the Holy Sepulcher

Although we were disappointed by the small number of pilgrims in the city, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher seemed to not be big enough on Friday evening to hold the crowed that thronged into it for the ceremony of Christ’s funeral.

“This celebration is typical here and Palestinian Christians particularly enjoy it. In addition, the preaching is done in Arabic,” Br. Jad said, while explaining the strong presence of local Christians.

Many Filipino and Indian migrant workers also joined them. Their devotion is exceptional so much so that it even has to be tempered. The first stations kept the crowd packed together nicely thanks to the architecture of the ambulatory, from the stone of anointing to the tomb, it was difficult for the four priests who carried the statue of Christ’s body to make their way through. But the Custos had given the instruction to “let people get close.” And get close they did. In the silence of Golgotha, mourning could be heard as the ceremony was carried out. It is always very powerful.

Then, the Lord’s body was laid in the tomb. At each stage, the reading of the Gospels brought meaning to the liturgy. The Custos prayed inside the tomb. He then went out. And the doors were closed.

The crowd was excited and joyful. The faithful hurried to receive their annointings. And in front of the Basilica, many pilgrims stayed behind, as if they were already in suspense while awaiting the resurrection. This is Jerusalem.

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